Today is World Water Day. This is the 22nd time we have celebrated World Water Day after the United Nations General Assembly declared it so in 1993. The theme of this year’s World Water Day is water and sustainable development, which is a key issue in Mongolia.
Water is a big issue in Mongolia. Some parts of the country have extensive water resources such as in the north, while others have very little. In total Mongolia has 12,635 meters cubed of renewable fresh water per capita, six times as much as China. However, climate change has caused hundreds of lakes and rivers to dry up, while environmental degradation and over extraction have also diminished water supplies.
Water is vital to all forms of life. Poor quality water can result in disease and death. While nearly 70 per cent of Mongolia’s population have access to improved drinking sources, this figure drops to 58 per cent in rural areas (SISS/MICS, 2013).
Even more important is access to enough water. Water is needed for good hygiene practices, such as hand washing. Without adequate water people cannot use good hygiene practices and are vulnerable to hygiene related illnesses and deaths, such a diarrhea.
Urbanization in Ulaanbaatar has strained existing water resources, with up to three-quarters of a million people living in the city’s ‘ger’ districts lacking direct access to water and sanitation (Mongolia’s total population is three million). In these areas people use up to 10 liters of water a day, well below the World Health Organization’s recommended 50 to 100 liters.
While Mongolia has made great progress reducing under-five mortality from diarrhea decreasing by 65 per cent between 2000 and 2013, the number of households with access to improved water supplies has stagnated.
Improving access to water for children is a key part of UNICEF’s effort in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector. Our focus is on improving access to clean water in schools and kindergartens in Khuvsgul (northern Mongolia) and Nalaikh (a peri-urban part of Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar).
And already these efforts are having an impact, with over 10,000 children in the two areas mentioned above benefitting from access to improved water and sanitation facilities through the construction of ground water wells and indoor and outdoor sanitation facilities.
Moreover, UNICEF is partnering with the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and local communities to improve water safety. UNICEF supported the local provincial government to develop and implement water safety plans in 12 rural districts (soums) in Khuvsgul, benefitting over 60,000 people. These plans engage the local community in treating water so that it is safe to drink and maintaining the treatment system. They also learn how to monitor the water quality and what to do if an issue arises.
Following the success of the program in these 12 districts, the provincial government has agreed to expand the project to all of the 24 districts and has allocated funding for this work.
While these efforts are a start, much more needs to be done. Addressing the water challenges facing the country is an issue for everyone in Mongolia. As water resources decrease so too does the country’s ability to support life. Finding a sustainable solution to this problem will require innovation and resources. However failure is not an option.
Batnasan Nyamsuren, Water and Environmental Sanitation Officer and Robin Ward, WASH Consultant, UNICEF Mongolia